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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guest Post: Cherie Dimaline

(Cherie Dimaline- Photo Taken By Susan Blight)

Cherie Dimaline is the writer in residence for First Nations House at the University of Toronto. Before taking this job, she spent time working for the Ontario government, running a Native Friendship Centre, assisting at a large women's magazine, curating a police museum, and as a magician's assistant. Her first book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007 and won Fiction Book of the Year at the Anskonk Literary Festival. It has since sold-out and gone into a second printing.

Her work appears in two 2011 McGraw-Hill Ryerson texts; an anthology of love stories called Zaagidiwin (Ningwakwe Press); in a limited edition volume of gothic stories about Toronto produced for the 2009 Luminato Festival (Diaspora Dialogues) and will be featured in several upcoming collections including Exotic Gothic 4 (PS Publishing) and a book of traditional Metis Rogarou tales (University of Alberta).

Her novel ‘The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy’ will be published in 2012 by Theytus Books

Cherie lives in Toronto with her husband and their 3 children. She is the editor of both FNH Magazine ( and Muskrat Magazine ( Cherie collects books, teacups and tattoos.

It all comes down to the thump and sizzle of the words… you just have to get them out
By: Cherie Dimaline

While trying to think of a topic for this esteemed blog assignment I picked up my copy of ‘Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights’ compiled and edited by Jon Winokur. My copy is borrowed (ten years ago, now) from then Chatelaine Editor-in-Chief and author, Rona Maynard, with clever quips checked-off in her no-nonsense, thin blue ink. (I’ll have to return it someday…)It’s a fine guide that usually inspires some sort of inspiration, so I flip randomly and find myself on page 123.

I think that to write well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice- they all make fine fuel,” says Edna Ferber.

And so I start to think that I need to pick a topic that makes my blood boil and my nails crack. I think about the fact that I am from a landless nation- the Metis of Ontario, that Aboriginal women and children are under-serviced and over-policed. I think about selfish things that make me angry, like the fact that no one seems to do the dishes on their designated night even though the calendar is clearly marked in coordinating colours, or that my one dog (who shall remain nameless for the sake of prideful anonymity) can never quite hold it until I get home and I am left to mop the floor before I even get my shoes off after work. I grit my teeth recalling exes of all sort and shade- boyfriends, friends, colleagues, even a spouse- but soon that turns to laughter, running cartoonish revenge scenarios through my tired head. So, I check back in the book. Across the page- on 122 to be exact- William Zinsser tells me something entirely different from Edna.

“There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”

Hmm. Maybe I am going on too much. I should be succinct; Zinsser succinct. I try to round up all my cold and churlish thoughts sparked from the first advice and corral them in the pithy borders of the second.

“Life is unfair. And a lot of people suck.”

Well, that’s certainly to the point, but doesn’t really make for a compelling blog. (Thanks for nothing William Zinsser.)

Now I am left with what it always come down to; the one constant in all my blogs, articles, stories and books- the words themselves. The sentences they stitch. The paragraphs that slither out. The pages that get stuck to the roof of your mouth trying to spit them out onto a bed pillow. It all comes back to writing.

Writing, that’s what I’ll write about. But now, what can I say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. What advice can I give that isn’t echoing the 227 pages of the aptly named ‘Advice for Writers’? Being lazy perhaps (I prefer to think of it as ‘honouring the work of others while relying on it to do my own’) I immediately think about a piece I recently read online, an advice blog (coincidence? I think not). It’s from the rumpus and it’s called Dear Sugar. (Check it out here - 
In this particular piece of advice, she is responding to an emerging writer who seems to spend more time being plaintive than writing and who has asked for some guidance. I’ll let this segment from her answer fill in the blanks.
“If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in. The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at 26, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there. It laments that you’ll never be as good as David Foster Wallace—a genius, a master of the craft—while at the same time describing how little you write. You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.
“So write... Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

And so, here we are, dear readers of Christine’s blog, the one true piece of advice we can all take as a universal pill to ease what ails you, “Write like a motherfucker.” I can hear the trumpets now, the poets clutching their weeping hearts for the glory of the sentiment, the blocked would-be-authors throwing up hands and papers, free at last from the confines of stalled genius. And honestly, it really is that simple. Give it all you got. In the end it’s not your intent or ego that will publish your book. It’s the words. It all comes down to the thump and sizzle of the words… you just have to get them out

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